The new Charlize Theron adventure “Atomic Blonde” takes place in Berlin just before the fall of the Wall and is based on a comic book called “The Coldest City”— but the city looks less cold than cool.
Aging Cold Warriors can revel in the always chic streets of Gorbachev’s East Berlin, brimming with graffiti and mohawks and crumbling apartment blocks. And the film’s soundtrack doesn’t miss its chance to utilize two of the greatest basslines in history, from New Order’s “Blue Monday” and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.”
Into this gritty tableau slides a Brit named Lorraine Broughton (Theron, styled like a blue steel cyborg), an MI6 agent sent to retrieve the body of her comrade and track down his killer.
Her contact is Percival (James McAvoy) a fellow MI6 spy and part-time black marketer of Western staples like Jack Daniels and Jordache. His shorn skull is derisively compared to Sinead O’Connor’s and McAvoy plays things in a squirrelly manner, as if he’s grasping at but not reaching a certain Shia LeBeouffian rapscallioness. His taste in reading ranges from Machiavelli to Hustler magazine and he’s quoting from one or the other when he says: “It is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver.”
Lorraine and Percival pursue a stolen watch filled with top secret microfilm — it might be in the hands of the nebbish Spyglass (Eddie Marsan) or the burly Yuri Bakhtin (Jóhannes Jóhannesson). The good guys are trying to secure it before Aleksander Bremovych (Roland Møller), a vicious arms dealer busily curb-stomping his way through Alexanderplatz for clues.
Lorraine also falls in with French agent Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella), a one-time poet making the difficult career change to spy craft who is soon entangled in her counterpart’s lacy underthings.
All of these lusty sequences are seen in flashbacks delivered by Lorraine to the thirsty ears of her MI6 superior Eric Gray (Toby Jones, who looks like he was born in a smoke-filled interrogation room and has never left it) and CIA honcho Emmett Kurzfeld (John Goodman). These men are trying to find out what ever became of the watch… and then there’s sorting out the identity of the mysterious double agent, codename Satchel.
All of the plot is less important than the portraiture of Theron in Berlin. Her platinum hair and pale skin make her almost translucent, a screen on which the colors of the ‘80s may play: “Miami Vice” pink, “Tron” yellow, light saber blue. At one point, soaked in blood from collarbones to cheeks, she looks just like a polar bear midway through snacking on a seal.
She is pleasingly dispassionate about violence, unless it negatively affects her couture. “If I knew he was going to call the cops, I’d have worn a different outfit,” she explains sulkily to her handlers after proving it is difficult — but not impossible — to dispatch four men with a garden hose while wearing a miniskirt and thigh high boots.
Filmmaker David Leitch has a short career as a director but a long one as a stuntman, which shows in shots of tightly-choreographed attacks from fists and feet and the occasional corkscrew. This emphasis on impact makes a comparison to the writings of spy master John le Carré less apt than one to the hand-to-hand combat shots in the Indonesian thriller “The Raid: Redemption.”